I tweeted earlier this week that, as I’m drafting character-sketches for my new novel, one of my main characters decided to switch genders from male to female. Discovery is one of the wondrous aspects of drafting, probably the most exciting element of writing fiction, and if you open yourself to the process, you go from active agent to slack-jawed scribe - taking dictation from the book itself.
We are here to serve the work, after all. Getting ourselves out of the way is as essential as it is difficult.
This particular character’s gender transformation upends my entire plot, and with it, the novel itself. Years of planning (and by planning I mean years of note-taking and rigorous reading and staring at walls) just went to shit.
And yet, the change probably saved the novel.
It’s not that the novel was going to suck, exactly, (probably, hopefully) but having written my share of tomes that I then stuffed into some desolate dresser drawer, I’ve acquired a feel for plot threads that are going to blaze versus those that are mere embers. With a single gender switch, I’ve found a conflagrant trail that will illuminate any and all future narratives involving these characters.
Of course I’m wholly and utterly unprepared. I’ve got nothing to back up this change; I’m having to re-create a history, re-imagine connections between the other characters, rethink the MacGuffin. All of it. Back to the proverbial drawing board. Back to the start. Begin again.
Once, I would have fought this change. Once I would have ignored what my character wanted to be and imprisoned everyone inside my doomed plan. The plan was all that mattered because it was the plan, because it was my plan. Somehow, against the backdrop of having failed many, many times, at many, many endeavors, I’ve finally learned that I should listen to my characters.
Listen. Adapt. Serve the story. That’s the work in progress here.